Food for the mind

The Modern Myth of Superfoods

The term Superfoods entered the dictionary in the early twentieth century. In the 60’s and 70’s it was frequently used in conjunction with the word “cultural “. Cultural superfoods, by definition, were those foods which were a community’s main source of calories because of which they acquired a tremendous religious, cultural, historical and mystical hold on particular societies acquiring a semi divine significance to its people.

Often these foods, generally staples, were cultivated and ingested to the exclusion of other nutritious foods and unless supplemented with other foods , led to malnutrition in the immediate population as proved by Derrick Brian Jeliffe and his wife Eleanore Patrice, experts in the field of infant and cross cultural nutrition. Thus rice in South India, Steamed Plantain (Matoke) in Buganda, Wheat bread in Europe and  Maize in Central America, having this socio religious significance, were classified as Cultural Super foods. *1

Today the usage is somewhat different.

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Auchan not so chaan

It took me some time to begin shopping for groceries at supermarket chains. I felt disloyal to my neighbourhood general stores where my rupee contributed to the preservation of "small business".

In the face of horrifying parking issues in Pune ( where not one building has adhered to parking laws, and has sold or rented parking spaces to house yet more shops, so customers are forced to park on the road,  creating more jams, obstructions and stress) I have been forced to frequent the self help supermarkets proliferating all over Pune.. 

It has not all been  under protest though. The parking lots are the main attraction. No major warfare  at the time of parking. Trolleys to save the weight on my arms, airconditioning and choice.All this makes it an option today.The time saved, alone, makes it worthwhile. 

In the beginning it seemed as if every supermarket catered to a foreign clientele- olive oil, pasta, mayonnaise , tinned , processed and unrecognisable foods filled the shelves. However I was glad to notice that one or two supermarkets had the average Indian customer in mind and offered, besides jowar and bajra grains and flour, more niche foods like dosa batter, idli batter and khowa, lassi and paneer.

And so I became a regular customer at Auchan (once known and soon to be known again as Spar.)

Ah Woe is Me!!

Auchan logo

For the last month I have been going to the delicatessan counter to pick up the usual batter and have been met with an indifferent ...." Its finished or Just starting to grind, or I dont know , not available. " No explainations, no concern, no attempt to cater to the customer. Nobody had bothered to ensure that products which were advertised were actually stocked or available.

When attempting to make a complaint, there is no manager, no assistant manager, no customer care human available . Have they all gone to lunch at 12 oclock at the same time, or maybe congregating for an important meeting in the toilet?

Unless you stage a dharna and raise your voice no person in sight wants to come forward and take responsibility.

As in all these large companies when it comes to the crunch the customer just has to lump it because no one is hearing. It seems every food retail business in India is making money hand over fist and couldn't care one bit about the consumer....yes, us little people who make your tills ring.

It is no longer worth going out of my way to a supermarket to buy ALL my groceries on the promise of one or two items specific to them, when there is no guarantee that they will be available. For the rest what they stock is what my mom and pop store stocks. So its back to Panchali General store for me.

Bye Bye Auchan and Spar

Dunt Dalun Chin Hin- Burmese Drumstick Sour Soup

Moringa_oleifera etching JS
Bengalis and South Indians have always used drumsticks in their food. In a Bhaja in the east and in Avials and Sambars in the South where  the murungakkai is a familiar ingredient with its three sided pod filled with flesh and seeds. Not a lot of people know however that the drumstick tree, Moringa oleifera, is a goldmine as it has several other edible parts all of which have wonderful nutritional and medicinal properties. Our ancestors did though…it is recorded in ancients Sanskrit texts that the leaves are an antidote to 300 diseases! They are believed to have antibiotic properties and are anti carcinogenic.

There are tales of miraculous cures through the use of the drumstick tree and it is no coincidence that many kitchen gardens in rural areas feature a hedge of Moringa Oleifera.

Since the tree needs lots of sun , is hardy and drought resistant, surviving as it does on rainwater and poor soil, it is a perfect for conditions in many parts of this country and is a boon to people in this part of the world. A gift which has, unfortunately, been ignored and largely under exploited .

Known as Mothers best friend , Tree of Life, and a Miracle tree in Africa,  Moringa is actually indigenous to the foothills of the Himalayas  but it grows just as well in the plains .The Jaffna and Chavakacheri murunga  varieties  are cultivated in the south to produce long fruits. The Chemurunga variety has red tipped fruits and a high yield. Other varieties like the Palmurungai  produce fleshy but bitter fruit .

The leaves are available throughout the year and are used as a vegetable. They contain seven times the vitamin C in oranges, two times the protein in milk, four times the vitamin A in carrots, four times the Calcium in milk and three times the Potassium in bananas.
They can be eaten fresh or sautéed which makes them a rich source of nutrients. Mixed with grated coconut, red chilli powder, some shallots, mustard seeds and   cumin powder it makes the Kerala Thoran. Tamilians and Sri Lankans saute the greens with prawns and fish for a fabulously fresh tasting dish. The leaf can also be dried and powdered and added to other dishes.

The fragrant yellowish white flowers and buds can be eaten as a vegetable. They do, however , need some cooking .They have a very delicate texture, are tender and succulent and will add interest to everything from an omelette to a sauce. Try cooking them with a bit of butter, garlic and salt for a side dish. The flowers and buds are also steeped in boiling water to make a lightly flavoured tea that is supposed to be a tonic and good for colds.

Drumstick seeds when immature are cooked in curries, or roasted or fried and eaten like peanuts  or dried and powdered for use as a tea. Mature seeds are used to make Ben Oil or Moringa oil, a non sticky edible oil which has a light aroma and works well in salads.

The Moringa tree was also known as the Horseradish tree since the roots taste a lot like that condiment. After peeling and drying the root was grated and used in vinegar as a pungent relish. Today this is being discouraged as it contains alkaloids which can be toxic.

Any use of the leaves and pods is to be encouraged as its nutritonal value is astounding when compared to any other greens available.

Here is a  Burmese recipe for a  delicious drumstick and fish sour soup: Dunt  Dalun  Chin Hin


2 tsp sesame oil/ til oil

1 onion, finely sliced lengthwise

2 cloves garlic, crushed

¼ tsp turmeric

3 tomatoes (green if possible)

1 cup torn spinach or other greens

2 cups drumsticks cut into 3” pieces and parboiled.

4-6 cups fish stock or boiling water

200 gms fish pieces.

¼ tsp dried shrimp paste(ngapi) or use a few dried shrimp.

Salt to taste


Method: Heat oil in a pan and fry onion and garlic. Add the tomatoes and spinach and turn heat down. Stir in the turmeric and pour in the stock. Bring to the boil. Add the drumstick pieces  and the shrimp paste .Cook for ten minutes till all flavours  blend. Add fish pieces and simmer for 5 minutes more.

You can add noodles to the soup to make this a one dish dinner.